Long travels and an uncertain future for families fleeing conflict in Mali

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By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Until a few months ago, 60 year old grandmother Zeinabou Maiga lived in Gao in northern Mali. “I lost my only son during the conflict. Now I find myself alone with two grandchildren. Without adequate shelter and no money, we have a precarious life growing up in deprivation in Kati," she says.

Zeinabou tells of her troubles at the border with Algeria, where she first sought refuge, before going to Kati, a town 40 kilometres from Bamako, the Malian capital.

After several kilometres on foot under a blazing sun and four days travelling in a truck with her two grandchildren, Zeinabou came to Kati, destitute and completely exhausted.

"We got sick once we arrived because we were close to 100 people crammed like sardines in the truck," she says.

After the outbreak of the crisis in northern Mali, thousands of people were displaced within the country while others sought refuge in neighbouring countries. By March, UNHCR estimated that more than 260,000 people are displaced in Mali, while more than 170,000 have fled to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

For those who ran to safety in southern Mali, most ended up being hosted by families which themselves were already overwhelmed and unable to cope with the needs of their unexpected guests. They exchanged conflict for misery.

“Everything was lacking and we depend on others to meet our needs. We are tired of begging in our own country," Zeinabou says. She is critical of some humanitarian organizations which came to conduct assessments but have not yet provided any assistance.

With the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and partner National Societies, the Mali Red Cross is providing assistance. “Only the Mali Red Cross came to bring us 300kg of rice, but we have used it all within a few weeks,” says Zeinabou. “There are more than five families living in this house which fled the conflict in the north, so the food doesn’t last long."

Like thousands of others, Zeinabou intends to return to her native region, but prefers to wait for the security situation to improve.

For now, she tries to survive in a hut she made herself to protect her family from the harsh sun; a makeshift dwelling which could be destroyed by the slightest rain when the rainy season starts in less than three months.